Time Blocking Your Calendar in Outlook

Tanner Lytle
Tanner Lytle
June 14, 2021

My typical work day would start out by sitting down at my desk with a hot cup of coffee in hand, login to my computer and be ready to jump-start the day.  By the end of the day and 5 o'clock rolls around, my computer's web browser would be left open with 30+ website tabs and I would barely be able to think straight from the day's barrage:

  • Emails
  • Phone Calls
  • Notifications
  • Text Messages
  • Social Media Messages
  • Meetings
  • Support Tickets
  • Projects
  • & all of the other miscellaneous things that steal my attention (looking at you cat memes...)

Worst of all, many of the things I needed to get done are still that waiting to be completed and a whole new list of things were piled on top of them.  I was constantly over my head and the excitement of showing up each morning to start all the cool things I got to work on, quickly became a overwhelming feeling of dread of all the things I had yet still to do.

I was working hard, but I wasn't working smart and was paying the price with burnout.

The Myth of Multitasking

In 2020, the team here at Honorbound IT started a "Book of the Month" club.  The first book that we chose was The Myth of Multitasking by Dave Crenshaw.  This book was a HUGE eye-opener for me, I'll include a link to a video of our review discussing the book for a more thorough overview.  My big realization was that if there wasn't a defined structure setup for your attention then both, myself and others won't know what I are working on, were interrupting a important task, or if I was available to chat / work on something else.

Using a Shared-Calendar to Plan Your Day

Using the new insight gained and determined to not be "switch-tasked" nearly as often I went to my Outlook calendar.  What I am showing you here is in the range of Microsoft 365 products that we provide here at Honorbound IT, but you can take a lot of these similar principles and apply them to other platforms such as Google Calendar.

First things when setting up my calendar is making sure that those who work alongside me have access to it.  Outlook has the really simple ability to create one or multiple calendars and share them with people within or outside your organization.

Microsoft 365 also gives the ability to customize the permission level of each calendar with those you are sharing with.  So others can schedule time on the calendar directly or make changes. We have it setup where everyone in our company can view each others calendars which gives clear view of what is on each persons agenda for the day/week/month.

Building the List

Once I had my calendar setup and shared with the others on my team, I needed to plan out my days.  I made a list of all of the routine tasks that I do as part of my job, sorted through all of things I had planned to get done and not yet completed and wrote them on the list.

Examples:

  • Email Responses
  • Ticket Inbox
  • Coffee
  • Morning Team Meeting
  • Lunch
  • Social Media Posts

Once I had everything written out, I started putting things on my calendar.  Prioritizing the things that were most important I started mapping out my week.

I create repeating calendar events for things that will be done each day or on a specific day each week.  This way they are automatically on my calendar and I wouldn't double-book myself or know that if there was a conflict in my schedule, I could get things moved so the tasks would still be completed.

A huge part of doing this time-blocking is to get as specific as you possibly can.  I quickly found that tossing up a 4-hour calendar entry called "website work" quickly devolved into getting very little done during that time. Breaking the task into steps and smaller time slots allowed me to keep focused on exactly what I needed to get completed during that time period and if there was something that took priority, I could move the remaining items to a later part of my calendar and pick up where I left off at a later date.

It is very easy to fill a calendar, but still end up lost because the time wasn't taken to define the exact steps needed to be done during the time-block.  Also, until those steps are defined, it's almost impossible to really know how much or how little time it may take.

The Power Hour

There is always a few tasks that I need to do, yet... never really want to get started.  So I will push them off and off again each week.  Since I started blocking my time out I've been getting more done each day than ever before...  but, there are is always those loose end tasks that just linger over me and never get finished.

This is where the "Power Hour" is incredible.  Each day on my calendar and right at the beginning of the work day, I'll schedule an 1-hour block of time that is dedicated to working on the things that I don't really want to do, but need to do.  Since it's only for one hour it's also more mentally bearable for me to just jump in, get started.  What I have found as well is that once I get going, I can clear through a lot of the tasks a lot quicker than if I would have given myself either more time. I also stopped the brain-energy sucking anxiety that happens from "thinking about getting started" all day and the constant threat of procrastinating the task once again.  Once, the habit is formed it becomes part of the daily routine.

Protecting Time But Still Being Flexible

Once, I had the calendar created, shared with others, and had my day planned out I quickly realized that there are all sorts of things came up I couldn't plan for when I started the day.  Phones ring, support is needed for customers, air conditioners break, and the hundreds of little things that pop-up during each day still happen whether or not I have something blocked on my schedule.

To keep my productivity expectations grounded in reality, I use Microsoft 365 "presence-based status" feature.  This allows me to easily set the status within our organization based on the priority of the task I'm working on.  If I need to have a certain time-block uninterrupted, I'll set my time as "busy" so it shows to my co-workers know that I'm not available in the Outlook Calendar and Teams app,  Using Microsoft 365 Business Voice, while set as "busy" calls will be routed to another technician or sent to my voice-mail so I don't get disrupted.

For tasks that are more flexible, I'll set my status as "Free" so I'll continue to work as I planned in my calendar, but still be fully online in all our communication channels, and be available for customers & co-workers if I'm needed.

Make It Yours

So this is just the tip of the iceberg on what can be done to start using a shared calendar for time-blocking.  What I've shared works for me, but everyone is different.  I would recommend tying it out by starting just with routine daily & weekly tasks.  If you can build up of the habit of starting when things are scheduled rather than putting them off it will give you a huge return.  I have found that the value you get from time-blocking is directly proportional to the amount of effort you put into maintaining and protecting your time.  So, once the time-block starts, get off social media, put the phone on silent and get the things you want done.

Tanner Lytle
Leading the Sales Department of Honorbound IT, Tanner is the main point of contact for a new and existing customers. When not working with others, he is busy updating the website and creating articles and videos!